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Women on the West Bank fight poverty with enterprise

Nearly a year after the war in Gaza, women in the West Bank are overcoming poverty by running their own co-operatives. With help and funding from several aid agencies, women have been able to set up their own small businesses providing training and marketing assistance to five cooperatives across the West Bank. 

The most recent wave of fighting in Gaza ended on 18 January last year but it speeded up the decline of already serious humanitarian conditions. Palestinians in Gaza are still suffering and Israel has kept up its blockade allowing in only the barest essentials. Unemployment is at more than 40% - more than 120,000 people have lost their jobs since the beginning of the blockade.  The economy is shrinking, and the chance to earn a decent living is simply not a realistic prospect for many. But on the outskirts of the city of Ramallah, Elham Sa’ah  runs a small supermarket. With a loan from the Economic and Social Development Centre of Palestine and New Farm Company, along with input from aid agency, Oxfam and the UK’s Department for International Development, the cooperative has grown and now has more than 20 women working for it. Most of the women work part-time to earn extra income for their family. Some of their goods have been exported as far as Saudi Arabia and are sold in 50 supermarkets across the West Bank.

Last March the cooperative set up a beehive business. Elham said, “The ESDC helped us with training from spraying the beehive, to learning how to cultivate and package the honey.” When she was a girl, Elham’s father looked after family beehives, a trade passed down through generations for the past 80 years. “My family never expected me to learn how to look after the bees,” she told Oxfam. “Sadly, my father has died before he could see this but I think he would be very happy and surprised by the change.”“My family thought I was crazy and that the bees would sting me! At the beginning my husband made jokes when I went for training. Before the men were very strong but now we are telling them what to do!”  “There isn’t a clash with the daily demands of running a family”, said Elham. “Now I have more responsibility and more pressure but at the same time the community respects me and this feeling makes it all worth it. I feel empowered in my community.”

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children